Mario Balotelli has returned to Manchester City exasperated but not surprised by his latest encounter with the racism in the Italian game. Balotelli, who was was abused by some Italy supporters during the Azzurri's 1-1 friendly draw with Romania in Austria on Wednesday, said afterwards: "If I have to hear those chants every time, you can't go forward like that.
Balotelli, who joined City in August from Internazionale, faced racist abuse throughout his career in Italy, largely based on the fact of his being an Italian of Ghanaian heritage who played for the national side.
New Italian laws on racism have attempted to stamp out the abuse Balotelli suffered in stadiums there, but Wednesday's friendly was played in Klagenfurt, Austria, and a banner declaring "No to a multi-ethnic national team" was unfurled by a group of Italian ultras at the Hypo-Arena. The striker, who played for 59 minutes before being substituted, was also the subject of boos from fans of both sides.
"I was very disappointed yesterday and I didn't want to say anything," he said. "The only sure thing is that I alone can't do anything. Everyone needs to do something against racism. What happened yesterday was racism, but it's also stupidity on the part of just a few people. I'm certain that if I were to meet one of those guys alone he would ask for my autograph. If I have to hear those chants every time, you can't go forward like that. I leave others to do the judgement. I am happy to be in the national team.
"It wouldn't be right to stop a game because a few fans that turn up to the stadium behave like that. We need to change these people but it's not me that has to do it. Where I live, the people don't reason like these people. A multi-ethnic Italy already exists and we can do better."
Balotelli, who made his Internazionale debut at the age of 17, became a controversial figure in Italy, partly because of his poor disciplinary record. However, in May 2009 Juventus were forced to play a match behind closed doors after some of their supporters persisted in singing "there is no such thing as a black Italian" about the forward.
On Wednesday, the Italy coach, Cesare Prandelli, said that he was "disgusted" by the banner at the Hypo-Arena. "We always hear these chants and something has to be done about it," Prandelli said. "We feel helpless. He has the support of everyone." Prandelli also hugged Balotelli when he came off.
Balotelli has also denied that he will return to Italy in the January transfer window. "The likelihood is that I will be at City up to June," he said, having been spotted with the Milan vice-president, Adriano Galliani. "I have a five-year contract and I can't say anything." Balotelli is suspended for City's trip to Fulham on Sunday but will be eligible for the game at Stoke City on 27 November.
City's goalkeeper Joe Hart has backed Balotelli to settle into English football and become a success in the Premier League. "He's a great guy, he is so friendly, he's positive, his English is brilliant, a lot better than he expected to be and he's fitted in well," Hart said.
"He's a positive thinker. He thinks he is going to be one of the greatest players in the world and I think that is a good way to think. He's got every attribute to do it and I just wish people would remember he is only 20 years old. He is just trying to make his way in the game."